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I wonder if I can use the adverb 'almost' between the verb and the object. Can I write,

I ate almost the whole fish.

or do I have to write,

I almost ate the whole fish.

It appears to me both sentences convey the same meaning, but are they?

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    The logical interpretation of your second example is the same as that of the first. Syntactically, in your first example "almost" modifies the noun phrase "the whole fish", while in the second it modifies the verb phrase "ate the whole the fish".
    – BillJ
    Mar 8 '20 at 9:30
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The difference is that first modifies "whole" and the second modifies "ate"

If you say "Almost the whole" that means "nearly complete". It would mean "most of the fish.

But If you say "I almost ate"... this suggests that you were close to starting to eat.

There was a worm in my apple and I almost ate it! But luckily I saw it first.

There is some flexibility in this and in context you would probably be understood as meaning "close to finishing eating", which is the same general meaning as the first.

But the key difference is that "almost" can modify both verbs and adjectives, and so the position matters.

Note that "I ate almost the fish" is incorrect, or unidiomatic. The word "almost" can't modify a noun "fish".

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  • I think most people would say that the natural interpretation of the OP's second example is the same as that of the first, the difference being in the syntax: in the first, "almost" modifies the noun phrase "the whole fish", while in the second it modifies the verb phrase "ate the whole the fish"..
    – BillJ
    Mar 8 '20 at 9:54

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